Time to Meet Your Maker

OK, I admit it.  I love my air conditioners.  I have two window units, one upstairs and one downstairs, and they cool my whole house to a comfortable 70 degrees, no problem.

On a day like today, 95 degrees Farenheit and humid, you’ll find me huddled around the AC, whether it’s in my home, car or office, or out to the movies or a restaurant.

Even though I know full well that my AC addiction is part of the problem of global warming, am I going to go without?

Hell no!

Why should I swelter while everyone else who can afford it, and especially the fat cats who got us into this global warming mess, are sitting cool as cucumbers and pretty as you please?!

Thus you have the tragedy of the commons playing out all over again, all the time.

It will take a crash—a blackout, a total system collapse—to make us give up our creature comforts here in the heart of Empire.

Some people say that crash can’t come soon enough, and I guess I agree with them.

Certainly for the rest of the life forms on the planet, the sooner human beings get lost, and take our asphalt and our AC and our combustion engines with us, the more chance there will be for the planet to recover without turning back the clocks to zero and starting all over again with bacteria and plankton and the other very basic building blocks of life.

But am I going to commit hari-kari right now to speed this process along, playing martyr for the benefit of the songbirds and the orangutans?

No, I am not.

I am going to keep living, keep cranking up my AC and bopping around in my car, until there’s no juice in the wires and no gas in the tank.

***

Trying to keep cool, I just went to see PROMETHEUS, a bizarre movie if there ever was one.

In it, human beings go to meet their Maker, and discover that their alien progenitor is an impatient, violent, sadistic psychopath—at least by human standards—who, immediately upon being revived from an eons-long sleep, greets his human rescuers  with murderous fury and sets course for Earth with a full payload of biological weapons.

As I complained to my son afterwards, why is the human imagination always so dark and destructive?

Why couldn’t the screenwriters have imagined a happier scene, where the Maker showers the Earthlings with stardust and thanks them for waking him up?

No.

We are, it seems, an irredeemably violent species.

We deserve whatever violent end awaits us.

When it comes, we should bow our heads and acknowledge that we totally brought it upon ourselves.

In the meantime, it’s getting hot in here.  Time to crank up the AC.

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33 Comments

  1. Martin Lack

     /  June 21, 2012

    Your escapism is understandable, Jennifer, because reality is indeed very disturbing. With my thanks to Paul Handover from Learning from Dogs for bringing it to my attention, this is just the best and briefest summary I have yet seen of the nature, scale and urgency of the problem we face:

    Reply
  2. leavergirl

     /  June 21, 2012

    Hm. All about emissions, zero about sequestration.
    All about scaring people with one scenario, and leaving no room for other possibilities.

    Reply
    • Martin Lack

       /  June 24, 2012

      With respect, leavergirl, sequestration is almost certainly fossil fuel lobby propaganda designed to excuse continuance of their insane business as usual project. When we discovered that blue asbestos was so dangerous, we stopped mining it. When we discovered CFC’s were dangerous, we phased them out. When we finally got tobacco executives in court, we began to do the same to cigarette smoking…

      Therefore, although there may yet be some things we cannot do without them (e.g. in making plastics), we should now eliminate fossil fuel use wherever we can (e.g. in power generation). Carbon sequestration may yet become a technical necessity (in order to preserve a habitable planet); but it should definitely not be used as a get-out-of-jail-free card for the industry that has caused the problem.

      Reply
      • Sequestration as an artificial process uses energy and building the necessary technical installations also needs significant amounts of materials and energy. Carbon capture or sequestration of a fossil fuel power plant would use up to a quarter of the plants energy.

        Biological methods of carbon sequestration are growth of forests, increase of humus production in agriculture, increase of wetlands and turf/peat production.

        The natural methods use sunlight as energy source and would be sustainable and preferable to artificial methods, but they are not happening.

        Forests are clearcut instead of increased, humus is destroyed by industrial agriculture, turf/peat production is negligible and the wetlands are destroyed by pollution (Louisiana wetlands – BP oil spill, Niger Delta wetlands – Shell oil spills) or turned into agricultural land. The world’s largest peat bog in Western Siberia, with a size of France and Germany combined, is thawing for the first time in 11,000 years. As the permafrost melts, it could release billions of tons of methane gas into the atmosphere.

        Carbon sequestration by geo-engineering could have dangerous unexpected effects. For instance phytoplankton growth by fertilizing the oceans could disturb the oceans bio-system and lead to catastrophic algae blooms.

      • Martin Lack

         /  June 25, 2012

        Dear mato48, I must admit I had assumed leavergirl was talking about artificial carbon capture and storage (CCS). Every time I write to the UK government, it is very clear that they are pinning all their hopes of a survivable future on making CCS work… There is, however, just one problem with CCS, which is that CO2 has no half-life. CCS will therefore be more dangerous than burying nuclear waste.

      • leavergirl

         /  June 25, 2012

        Martin, the sequestration I mean is the same sequestration nature uses to sequester carbon from volcano eruptions. 83% of terrestrial sequestration happens in soil, about 17% in woody vegetation. The particularly key sequestration aspect is the formation of stable humus (a gel) that sequesters not only carbon, but also water (and water vapor is the most plentiful greenhouse gas).

        If we sequester carbon this natural way, we increase the health of the soils at the same time, and get a window of opportunity to deal with emissions, or simply wait out the decline of fossil fuels. Natural carbon sequestration is most certainly NOT propaganda. (That is why you never hear about it out there in mainstreamland… :-)) The weird part is that the alternative community is so fixated on emissions that this important point is completely missed.

        This may be an abstruse point, but dealing with emissions are difficult because of Jevons paradox. The paradox does not apply to natural carbon sequestration. We can begin at any time, and it will add up. All we need to do is help nature do what she does so well (or get out of her way).

      • leavergirl

         /  June 25, 2012

        Oh and Martin, I wrote a whole post about it,here it is:
        leavingbabylon.wordpress.com/2012/05/10/can-humus-save-humans

        And there are many other resources pointed to in the comments.

  3. Larry

     /  June 22, 2012

    “But am I going to commit hari-kari right now to speed this process along, playing martyr for the benefit of the songbirds and the orangutans?”
    Jennifer, I struggle with these issues also, as do many of us on this side of the divide, I think. The thing is, if I thought shutting down my air conditioner would actually make a difference, I would do it… It’s that “it doesn’t matter, won’t matter, can’t matter” thing that stops me. Still, while I do use air conditioning sometimes, and engage in other obviously poisonous activities, something in me won’t allow me to adopt the “I don’t care” attitude, rationalized as logically having no real effect… It just seems so wrong, feels so wrong, like I’m a participant in the crime of the century (or the millenium)…

    Reply
    • Jennifer Browdy de Hernandez

       /  June 25, 2012

      Apparently my sarcasm in this piece did not come through well. I certainly do care! I write out of my profound ambivalence over continuing to use AC when I know full well how bad it is for the planet. I suppose I write to screw up my courage to stop. It’s like an addiction, isn’t it? Perhaps I am writing as a “cry for help,” looking for a support group….

      Reply
  4. You still read the NY Times? (another “guardian of the status quo” I could say but I refrain from saying it because some readers here hold the corporate mass media outlets dear to their heart and I don’t want to hurt their feelings). I followed your link and read:

    New air-conditioners in the USA use an HFC coolant called 410a, labeled “environmentally friendly” because it doesn’t destroy the ozone layer as much as older CFC coolants. This gas is a greenhouse gas like CO2 and it is two thousand times more powerful than CO2.

    AC sales in China and India are growing 20 percent every year, as units become more affordable and temperature rises with climate change. Scientists estimate, that in 2040 up to 22 percent of global warming could be caused by AC coolants.

    ========

    Your use of AC will increase global warming and make AC even more necessary. Where will this upward spiral end?

    I understand, that you live now and want to have a comfortable life now and the future is of secondary importance. But you have two children, how do you square their waning long-term prospects with your short term considerations?

    We all know, that the future is uncertain and manmade predictions more often than not don’t materialize, even a limited regional nuclear war for instance could neutralize global warming by the effects of a “nuclear winter,” caused by the mushroom clouds and the smoke from burning cities. This would not mean though that humans would be spared the serious implications of climate change, including more severe storms, droughts, or floods.

    We all know, that human activity profoundly changes the biosphere and disturbs or destroys natural systems. Artificial man-made systems seldom work as efficient as the natural ones and are most times only a short time fix and unsustainable (industrial agriculture, water management, waste treatment, all fossil fuel based technologies).

    There are various alternatives to AC:

    Lifestyle changes, using appropriate clothing and shifting activities to the cooler periods in the early morning or late afternoon. Moving to the coolest place in your home (usually the cellar) or building such a place (an underground earth house, a sun protected shed in a forest or on a sun adverse hillside).

    The pueblos of the Navajos and other ancient and indigenous buildings give many clues how to keep a place cool without AC.

    This is the first time that I profoundly disagree with you but I could imagine that your post was just meant as a provocation. I agree with you that we should enjoy life and make the best out of it, I pointed out in various posts that descending into melancholy and despair will only make us sick and not change anything to the better.

    But there is a (natural) way of life that seeks to reduce the energy consuming technology. This natural way of life is said to be even more fulfilling and enjoyable than the life in Western consumer societies. Maybe you don’t believe this, maybe you don’t believe me and other witnesses, but did you ever try?

    Mass media and advertising have brainwashed us and made us believe, that more stuff, more technology, more energy consumption is the solution.

    Sometimes more stuff is a solution, but in most cases not an intelligent one (the AC is a clever and intelligent appliance for sure, but it is not your intelligence). Buying another AC and turning the knob doesn’t need much brain, it is evidently much easier than reorganizing one’s life and seeking a cooler place.

    You wrote: “Why should I swelter while everyone else who can afford it…”

    What about the ones who cannot afford it? They are the majority of humans.

    What about a paradigm shift, a “Transition Time,” what about a powerful message to everybody around you by setting an example?

    Reply
    • Jennifer Browdy de Hernandez

       /  June 25, 2012

      You are right, I did write this piece as a provocation–it’s really about my participation in the tragedy of the commons represented by our herd mentality as humans. Without a social movement to galvanize us to change, we tend to just follow along with what everyone else is doing. And in my limited social world, most everyone else either has an air conditioner or wishes devoutly to get one as soon as possible. And yes, everyone reads the NY Times, too. I was trying to represent that mind-set, because for most of us who are deeply embedded in it, it is invisible–we don’t even realize it’s there. So I am grateful for all the comments offering alternatives to AC. I was away from home for the past few days, and spent one of the very hot days at a lakefront cabin with no air conditioning. The fans worked very well, and of course nothing can beat swimming in cold clear lake water!

      Ultimately, I am more concerned with how to ignite a social movement around the AC issue, than with my own personal decisions day to day. The NY Times article did mention that new alternatives to traditional coolants exist now, which do not create greenhouse gases, or not at all on the same scale as our current machines. Why isn’t there an environmental movement promoting them? Certainly if the Indians and Chinese are starting to produce air conditioners, they should be producing the environmentally friendly kind! And we should be switching ours over as well, as we did with refrigerants when the ozone layer damage was detected.

      Where there’s a will there’s a way. But the first step towards raising that will is always knowledge. Thanks for sharing yours!

      Reply
  5. My comment was hastily written and I forgot many things.

    I forgot, that the power consumption of an AC is fore sure more harmful than then cooling agents. A Frigidaire FRA052XT7 needs 500 watts, a General Electric AEM14AP 1300 watt. There are also units which use 2000 Watt and more.

    One method to keep the house cool on very hot days: The windows are all open in the night (possible because we have aluminum fly screens everywhere), in the morning at 9 AM the windows are closed and only opened again at 6 PM. The curtains are also closed, only the curtains of the northern windows are open.

    I have a room in the cellar with only one small window to the North. The room is therefore quite dark but most of my indoor activities don’t need bright sunlight (I have a computer, a keyboard, and a guitar there). When the temperature outside is 30 degree Celsius (86 degree Fahrenheit), the temperature in this cellar room is typically 20 degree Celsius (68 degree Fahrenheit).

    Reply
  6. Fans! Fans are fantastic.
    If it’s really really hideously hot, have a moist towel and wipe it over your brow, wrists, neck, feet, wherever, and let the fan cool you through evaporation. And follow mato’s great advice re opening up the house at night.
    We got by without bloody air cons a generation ago. We can do it again.
    Symbolic sacrifice really matters now, don’t you think?

    Reply
    • Jennifer Browdy de Hernandez

       /  June 25, 2012

      Hi Angie, I agree, fans do work very well. And I do open windows at night, shut them in the day. I really use my AC very rarely. But it’s hard to give up entirely when it’s just a button push away on a very hot afternoon. I would like to hear more about how symbolic sacrifice matters. It matters if it galvanizes others to action, if it ignites a broader social movement. By itself, I am not sure how much one person quietly giving up AC will mean. It needs to be a high-profile “sacrifice,” I think, like volunteering to get arrested in front of the White House to protest the Keystone XL. I can’t imagine Americans getting worked up about giving up AC. What an unpopular campaign that would be! I guess that’s why the environmental movement has remained so very silent about this issue. I am sure the presidents of Sierra Club and even Greenpeace do not want to give up their summer AC!

      Reply
  7. Martin Lack

     /  June 25, 2012

    I think everyone should have as much Air-Con as they need – so long as it is solar-powered.

    Reply
    • Jennifer Browdy de Hernandez

       /  June 25, 2012

      Solar-powered, yes, and also far more benign to the climate than most current AC units. Cf the new refrigerant that will be used in cars in the next couple of years, and hopefully in buildings too. But there needs to be a big push towards conversion, especially for big airconditioned buildings like malls, office towers and factories–which should also be converting to solar!

      Reply
      • Martin Lack

         /  June 25, 2012

        This should be feasible with any big building whose roof space is not taken up with car parking; and the building should also be painted white… As the British supermarket Tesco would like us all to repeat “Every little helps!”

  8. That’s an awful lot of solar PV panels to be manufactured with dwindling stocks of rare earths, and demand for these from other industries like computers and mobile phones as well. Solar passive building design is a crucial plank in the future of the built environment, because buildings are so energy intensive to run, so energy intensive to build, and have such a long service life. EVERY building built now needs to manage internal climate using solar passive design. That means we will have to make fewer uncomfortable choices between using valuable renewable electricity from PV in the applications which require energy as electricity (lighting and motors), and wasting it on heating/cooling applications.

    BTW – Sarcasm received 100% Jennifer!

    Reply
    • Martin Lack

       /  June 26, 2012

      Good point about all those rare Earth metals getting ever-rarer. Fancy me being a geologist – and a environmental realist – and not mentioning that! Tut, tut.

      Also in the UK news today: Newly published research estimates over £1 billion wasted per year by people leaving gadgets on stand-by. Such wastage accounts for 16% of total domestic usage (twice the 8% previously estimated), which itself accounts for 25% of all electricity consumed in the UK.
      http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-18577035

      Reply
      • Jennifer Browdy de Hernandez

         /  June 26, 2012

        Oh man! I need to run around my house and unplug!!

  9. Jen, it’s a relief to hear that this piece was emblematic of a struggle, rather than one more, “oh fuck it we’re all going to hell might as well live it up can’t change a thing I hate america for doing this to the planet humans are a revolting species” bit of hedonistic nihilism.

    For me yes symbolic personal sacrifice matters. Lying awake, having watched David Roberts above, I consider my amazing delightful girls, who in their mid-teens shine with intelligence, talent, hope, beauty, sassiness, courage, heartache, empathy and potential contribution. I love them in the profound personal way a mother loves. I consider all the children I know and care about, all the children I don’t know.

    They are going to hell under slow, brutal depraved circumstances.

    You and I are two of the most privileged human beings to ever walk this planet -whoever will. Of all sentient beings in all of time through this vast universe we are probably the most cosseted, as far as we know. There is very good science to back this idea, which I don’t understand but I trust (something about the self-destruction of advancing life forms in the Drake Equation).

    I am ashamed at my squandering of my privilege, of my laziness and self-indulgence, knowing others suffer now, and all will suffer by the end of the century. So turning off the a/c is to assuage guilt (yes to stroke my ego’s preference for personal integrity). It feels great. Yay, I’m human, I can’t paint or write or dance ballet. But I can use my gift of humanity to be morally informed (sometimes). Does that make sense? I do it for me at the very least.

    And then I do it for the kids, their kids, and for the creatures on earth. The truth is that the grief is unbearable, so I am in denial. Instead I choose to believe we can turn this around, that the methane feedback systems have been inaccurately modelled or something. I believe that the groundswell of individual resistance presages a tsunami of change; the zeitgeist transformation we need.

    I join with the Voluntary Simplicity people, the Transition Towners, One Million Women and, well, the gazillion other initiatives involving permaculturalists, backyard and community organic food gardeners, ethical eaters, ethical consumers, vegetarians, vegans, religious groups, older folk, cultural groups, mothers, local governments etc, etc, etc. who quietly go about living more gently. Google climate change activist groups. =>🙂🙂

    We owe it to those who try, to try ourselves. And when we get online we should encourage each other as we falter in the face of the stupid mainstream continuing to gorge on resources and billow CO2 and be so bloody comfy in the process. But who wants to be a bogan? Call me classist – don’t care actually.

    Jen, I’m a recidivist with this stuff too. It’s hard. And I’m certainly no hairshirtist. We just try to think before we consume. Sometimes our choice, as a function of time constraints, fatigue (including emotional), social pressure, affection for the kids etc is poor, but the trajectory is better than it was a few years ago, and we’ve never been a happier family! True!

    Enough ranting, sorry.

    I’d put it to the Greenpeacers that they can at least turn the a/c down a couple of degrees. I’m sure they will.

    Reply
    • Jennifer Browdy de Hernandez

       /  June 26, 2012

      Angie, good to hear your feisty voice again, I was missing you! I am totally in line with your sentiments here, and my constant thought is on how to get this message out to the most privileged folks, who are most in position to create change in the halls of power, in such a way that they hear it and are inspired to act. Communication is where I think I have the most to contribute, so I am always trying out different approaches. The response to this latest AC piece was quite thought-provoking! I shall be pondering it for the rest of the summer, I am sure….

      Meanwhile it has turned unseasonably cold here in New England, we are pulling out our fleece sweaters again! Just can’t keep up with this weather….

      Reply
      • Martin Lack

         /  June 26, 2012

        Everywhere you look, there seems to be unseasonble weather. However, I think we may have to redefine the terms seasonable (at least that is what the fake skeptics will do). I tell you what though; that 4% extra moisture in the atmosphere is sure making its presence known…
        http://climatecrocks.com/2012/06/25/duluth-storm-yet-another-postcard-from-the-future/
        http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/2012/06/25/uk-weather-record-breaking-wettest-june_n_1623982.html

      • leavergirl

         /  June 26, 2012

        Martin, did you see my two responses above (way up)? Eager to hear what you think.

      • Thanks Jen.
        Bit embarrassed that I took you too literally.
        I wouldn’t waste too much time on the halls of power. They’ll only cooperate as the voters insist in power broking numbers.
        The ripple effect from blogs such as these can’t be understated.
        As we read about and then interact personally with people doing the right thing, behavioural change transmits, if only through vanity; conspicuous crass consumption is becoming very unfashionable😉. The mometum is building in terms of ethics. Think of organic food lines, fair trade coffee, free range eggs, eco cleaning products, recycled office paper etc, all on the shelves of the dominant supermarkets now.

        Leavergirl, I wish you’d reconsider and vote, with bells on! You are promoting a genuinely intelligent solution in soil sequestration, and your blog is getting much airspace. Voting is compulsory in Oz and our Greens hold the balance of power in both houses. We’ve introduced a tax on carbon, commencing this Sunday! We might even tax the big mining companies. We have a conservative base every bit as greedy, devious and hysterical as yours, and a historically entrenched two party system. It may be that your non preferential voting system stymies a third force, but every vote of protest is noted and can inform policy if in sufficient numbers. We need women like you to rally!!!!! (don’t smack me…)

      • leavergirl

         /  June 27, 2012

        Tee, hee Ange, thank you for the good words. Truly. I hope the soil solution spreads…

        And I am not excluding the possibility that in some places, sometimes a vote can help. But what do you do when the system is utterly rigged, and you have two evil dwarves?🙂 There comes a time in a woman’s life when she must stop pinching her nose, and stand up straight.

      • Martin Lack

         /  June 28, 2012

        Dear leavergirl. Sorry not to have responded sooner. I have no reason to doubt what you say about what goes on (or could be made to happen) in the natural world. We may well need all the help we can get from nature but, I still think it would be best to try and get our fellow humans to do the right thing instead…

      • leavergirl

         /  June 28, 2012

        Martin, I am confused. What do you mean? I thought my post was much about us humans doing the right thing… (?)
        — Bewildered in Colorado

      • Martin Lack

         /  June 29, 2012

        Sorry leavergirl, I wrote my comment without actually visiting your blog but, clearly, we are agreed on this one.

        Thanks must go to both mato48 and to you for respectively taking the time to point out my stupidity in misunderstanding your original comment and my laziness in responding to your follow-up.🙂

  10. Oh Leavergirl.

    So sad.

    If there is yet a single hope for life, it lies with America. No matter how corrupted your democracy, surely it has to be qualitatively more redeemable than the systems of governments of the other major powers? (At least your administration bothers to hide its human rights violations. At least protesting is ostensibly tolerated.) While the screws are tightening on American freedom of speech, yours remains the most influential citizen voice in the world.

    Women’s suffrage was a hell of a struggle. And we’re reminded in Australia when we bitch about our compulsory system; “Around the world people risk their lives to vote”.

    I can anticipate your futility. We watch in awe as US citizens acquiesce to the dumbing-down program. Our shame is, we then fall in line. We idolise celebrity, “work” to buy cheap Chinese nonsense and beauty procedures, push our animals into vast factories of abuse, indulge our kids, complain endlessly and so on, all the while dutifully distracted from the government endorsed/facilitated ravaging by business.

    Our hearts are as broken by the Obama sellout as yours.

    But still….? Man, if you guys don’t get it together and find a way to make the fuckers stop…….. it’s just too tragic.

    I dunno. It’s not my business is it? And it’s not your fault. I suppose it’s just bloody bad luck to be one of the penultimate generation

    Reply
  11. On a lighter note, I googled “stop pinching your nose and stand up straight”, thinking it might be a charming saying from your old country?
    Do love your turn of phrase!

    Reply
  12. leavergirl

     /  June 28, 2012

    Heh. Wuz just referring to the common phrase here about pinching your nose when you are voting for the slightly less stinky evil dwarf. Sigh. I think the solution will have to be global. No single nation can do it. Perhaps least of all the denizens of the Empire. Remember, it was not the Romans who brought about another way of doing things… it was the “barbarians”.

    Reply
  13. Barbarians unite!🙂

    Reply

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